Review: Naturalis natural history museum

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Triceratops at Naturalis Leiden

Naturalis Biodiversity Center definitely deserves its spot in the top 10 best children’s museums in The Netherlands. Located in Leiden, this Dutch natural history museum is only a short train ride away from Amsterdam and well worth the visit. The museum has been closed a very long time for renovations, but in September 2019 it was finally reopened. Better than ever! Spread out over almost 6000m2 you’ll find Naturalis’ massive collection of 42 million plants, animals, rocks and fossils. Special mention of course for the dinosaurs! Let us tell you all about why a visit to Naturalis should be on your list of things to do in The Netherlands.

Naturalis, the Dutch national research institute for biodiversity, has one of the largest natural history collections worldwide. Cataloging every find, researchers from all over the world are able to work with this collection. Each of the 120 researchers and all the support staff at Naturalis have a passion for nature and the new building reflects this perfectly. Now, why is this a great place to visit with kids?

An interactive experience for all ages

What we really like about Naturalis is that it’s a museum for all ages. We’ve been there twice now and the visitors are a great mix of both young and old. Anyone with an interest and passion for nature will love this museum. You can check out the museum by just reading and watching the exhibits, see the researchers in action in the Live Science section in the basement or take a more hands-on approach and examine the curiosity cabinet in the Ice Age gallery or experience an earthquake at the Earth gallery.

Live Science

The first time we went to Naturalis, we skipped the Live Science section because there was so much else to see. So we made sure we didn’t miss it the second time. The Live Science area is located in the basement of Naturalis and can be visited for free, without a museum ticket. At set times the Naturalis scientists give presentations, but the best part is seeing the researchers at work. When we were there we saw a taxidermist preparing a bird and we went to the area where they clean and prepare the dinosaur bones. One of the guys working there spent over half an hour explaining all kinds of dinosaur stuff to us. So cool! He was very knowledgeable and his enthusiasm for his field of work was very inspirational.

The galleries at Naturalis

The museum has seven theme galleries: Life, Ice Age, Earth, Early humans, Dinosaur Era, Seduction and Death. Each of the galleries has its own look an feel, and all are very well done and impressive. As we could have expected, the Dinosaur gallery is our son’s favorite by far.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Life gallery - Big Cats
Big cats at the ‘Life’ gallery

Life gallery

The sensational entrance gallery is called ‘Life’. This is where you discover the diversity and celebration of life. Light, video and sound are combined with a large selection of Naturalis’ wildlife collection to let you experience nature in all of its beauty. It’s a very impressive part of the museum. From a massive African elephant to a tiny mouse and even smaller butterflies, birds and insects. A wide range of aquatic and terrestrial species highlight how all animals and plants have their unique place in nature.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Life Gallery - Birds
The ‘Life’ gallery shows nature in all its shapes and sizes, such as these birds

Ice Age gallery

Check out the ‘Big Five’ that lived in The Netherlands in prehistoric times: the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, the steppe bison, the cave lion, and the cave hyena. There’s a scale model of a barren prehistoric landscape that fills most of the room, surrounded by hundreds of fossils from that time. Can you imagine these animals lived over 30.000 years ago? Using the binoculars, you can watch the animals that lived on these prehistoric plains as if they’re really there. We love the curiosity cabinet, that lets you explore the fossils up close. Can you guess what animal that bone, skin or molar is from? How did these animals live in the ice age?

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Ice Age Gallery Naturalis
Using the binoculars at the Ice Age gallery to watch the animals come to life

Earth gallery

Learn all about natural phenomena that have to do with our planet Earth, and its activity within. What do Hawaii, Japan, Brazil, and Iceland have in common? Each has amazing landscapes, untouched by man and shaped by Earth’s activity below the surface. Naturalis makes you appreciate the raw beauty and amazing natural forces of our planet, by illustrating the effects of plate tectonics, such as earthquakes and erupting volcanoes. Experience an earthquake in Japan, visit a stone quarry in Brazil and check out the spot where Iceland is split in two, all while following the experiences of ‘fellow-travelers’ you meet along the way.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Earth Gallery at Naturalis natural history museum Leiden Netherlands
Be impressed by Earth’s powerful forces of nature

Early Humans gallery

The true origin of humankind is still a matter of debate. In the Early Humans gallery Naturalis tells the story of Dutch researcher and doctor Eugene Dubois, who was determined to find the missing link in human evolution. At the end of the 19th century he joined the Dutch army as a physician and accepted a post in the Dutch East Indies so he could continue his search there. At Naturalis you’ll find the Homo erectus fossils, a skull cap, a femur and a molar, discovered by Dubois on the Indonesian Island of Java. What really caught our attention was the reconstruction of the lifelike prehistoric woman that’s displayed. Is this what our ancestors looked like?

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Skulls at the Early Humans Gallery
Visualization of evolution: see the skulls of early humans evolve
FlipFlopGlobetrotters - prehistoric woman at the Early Humans Gallery
This reconstruction of an early human woman really left an impression

Dinosaurs Era gallery

In this gallery, you’ll find one of Naturalis’ major finds, the famous T-Rex called Trix. Naturalis researchers discovered this amazingly well preserved and complete skeleton on the North American prairie of Montana. The dinosaur gallery is 12 meters high and the huge dinosaur skeletons, combined with projections and sounds are incredible. It really makes the dinosaurs come alive! The dinosaur gallery obviously is our son’s favorite. Besides the T.Rex skeleton the museum also has various other well-preserved dinosaurs, such as the Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus and Triceratops.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - huge dinosaurs at Naturalis
The massive dinosaurs at Naturalis make you feel really small
FlipFlopGlobetrotters - T.Rex Trix at Naturalis Leiden
World famous T.Rex Trix at Naturalis Leiden

Seduction gallery

Procreation can be a sensitive topic, but Naturalis manages to present it in a playful way. This gallery, presented as a warehouse of love, stimulates all your senses with a huge collection of objects, trivia, illustrations and games. What do you know about the mating ritual of ruffs, the attraction of female giraffe urine or the fidelity of an African penguin? Is immaculate conception really possible and which animal lays the smallest eggs? In a colorful gallery Naturalis showcases a great mix of fun and facts related to courtship, coupling and offspring.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Seduction Gallery at Naturalis
The Seduction gallery is playful and interactive

Death gallery

As death is a part of life, Naturalis believes a museum about all aspects of life on Earth should also have a gallery about death. The gallery is built around the idea of the circle of life, death leads to rebirth. It’s presented as a ‘maze of death’ to illustrate we don’t know when or how our time comes, only that life is finite. It’s an impressive display, dark with numerous spotlighted objects that show the many faces of death. To be honest it was a bit too much for our 6-year old. If your child is very sensitive, you may want to skip this section.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Death Gallery
Impressive Death gallery: face to face with death

The sustainable Naturalis building

The architecture of the new Naturalis building is inspired by nature, with lots of natural shapes and the use of natural materials. Honeycombs, leave patterns and cat’s eyes are only a few shapes that can be found inside this building made of natural stone, oak wood, glass and steel. Natural aging of these materials will only give the building more character over time. Of course, in this day and age such a museum has to be sustainable. Naturalis has its own geothermal heat pump system, sustainable ventilation, 100% LED lighting, solar panels, green roofs and an energy-friendly climate control system.

Naturalis floral patterns
Patterns from nature are found everywhere in the Naturalis building, such as this flower pattern

Food and drink at Naturalis

There is so much to see and do at Naturalis that at some point you really need a break. There’s a well-stocked restaurant on the ground floor and a coffee corner on the 5th floor. You’re free to bring your own food if you prefer, and eat it in the café on the 9th floor.

Naturalis: our verdict

Is Naturalis suitable for kids? Is it worth a visit? Is Naturalis a fun place to visit with kids? Will we visit again? The answer to all of these is YES. We love this museum! As homeschoolers having such a great resource nearby is fantastic. We saw kids of all ages at the museum, from toddlers to teens. It really is a museum everyone can enjoy and there’s a lot to see and do. I do think kids 5+ will get the most out of it, but younger kids won’t be bored.

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